Everything about her seemed deliberate. No. Deliberate’s the wrong word. Practiced. Everything about seemed practiced. Yes. Practiced. Not like she stood in front of the bathroom mirror every morning going over her accent, elocution, smile, wink, and blink that made her come off more like a Victorian Era coquette than a Gen-X burnout. She was practiced in the way a woman becomes practiced because she always did the same things. A lovely creature of habit that, if she had bothered knowing anyone long enough, her mimicry of herself would have been found out.
But Alice didn’t get to know people. Or maybe it was that she didn’t get close to them. Not really. Alice was warm and friendly, flirty, fun, a good conversationalist. Good drinking partner. The kind of person that people instantly fell in love with, wanted to be around, wanted to talk to, wanted to impress. And yet, she never told anybody anything about her. That was her. She wasn’t a woman you wanted to know as much as she was a mystery you needed to solve.
We had mutual friends because she had an affair with my best friend Donnie. Calling it an affair makes it sound seedier than it was, though, because he wasn’t married. But they were together for almost an entire month; they were always together. In that whole time, he never knew anything about her except the exact number of tattoos on her body and how she liked her coffee. She liked her coffee with amaretto and whole milk. Donnie wouldn’t talk to me about the tattoos.
Then I ran into him one time and she wasn’t there. I asked him where she was.
He shrugged. “I dunno.”
“She didn’t stay over last night?”
He shook his head. “Nope.”
“You guys have an argument?”
“Nope.” Donnie seemed satisfied and not all that heart broken. Women usually liked Donnie. Donnie was exciting. Dangerous. Or, at least he played the part. So I assumed I’d see Alice again eventually. I thought about her from time to time and sometimes I’d ask Donnie if he’d heard from her. He hadn’t. Sometimes I would call her. She never picked up or returned any of my calls.
When I saw her again, it was two years later. I was standing in line at a coffee shop in Seattle. I was there on business. She was standing right in front of me. Her hair was a different color; but I knew it was her. I said her name, and she turned around. It took her a minute; then she smiled and asked how I’d been. She talked to me like she couldn’t remember my name.
“Zed,” I reminded her. “I’m doing fine,” I said. “I’m here on business.”
“Hmm,” she answered. “That’s nice.” I expected her to ask me what kind of business I was in. She didn’t. She also didn’t say why she was there or how long she had been living in Seattle.
“Do you ever talk to Donnie?” I asked
“Hmm?” Alice looked up from ordering her coffee. She ordered espresso with whole milk and amaretto syrup. She looked like she was trying to remember who I was talking about. “Oh. No.”
“Oh. Well, he’s married now.”
“Good for him.” She smiled. I didn’t detect a hint of sadness. I didn’t detect a hint of anything.
“I’m still not married.” I regretted it the instant the words came out of my mouth. I knew how it sounded. Desperate.
“Oh. That’s nice.” She paid for her coffee and moved on. She waved at me and smiled. I thought about asking her if she wanted to meet for drinks; but she was out the door before I could.